The Ring Road
Some 150 years ago, Vienna’s enormous city walls and bastions were replaced by the wide and tree-lined Ring Road around the historical centre. Along the Ring Road are the reminders of former Austro-Hungarian grandezza, including Hofburg Palace (now housing the Spanish Riding School, the Vienna Boys‘ Choir, the National Library, seven museums, a butterfly house, the president’s office, an OECD dependence and a conference centre), the State Opera, Burg Theatre, Vienna’s City Hall, the Parliament Building, the bustling Museumsquartier, the Art & Science history museums, Karls Church, Votiv Church, the stock exchange and four universities. A tramway loop around the centre (daily from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm ever 30 minutes) is an absolute must for every Vienna tourist. Buy your ticket directly on the Bim (original Viennese phrase for tramway) – one round costs 6€ and lasts for 30 mins or buy a 24h combi-ticket for 14€ for public transport and the Ring-Round.
From the opera and the tourist info, the pedestrian Kärntner Straße runs towards Vienna’s prime landmark, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, almost continually under construction since 1147. The north tower still remains unfinished, but the views from the south tower are well worth the wearisome climb. The catacombs in the basement contain the innards of 56 royals and several infants. The House where Mozart lived is behind the cathedral in Domgasse 5 (open daily 10:00 am – 7:00 pm). West of St. Stephen’s Square is the pedestrian Graben with the Pest Monument in the middle of it. On the left in Dorotheergasse is the famous Café Hawelka and the Jewish Museum. Straight on, at the right of Graben is Peter Square with just another church (St. Peter). The end of Graben is crossed by Kohlmarkt (left – Café Demel and Café Griensteidl are there) and Tuchlauben (right), leading to the former Jewish Quarter. Straight on, Naglergasse heads to the Am Hof and Freyung squares. North of St. Stephen’s square is Rotenturm Straße with a good Pizzeria (Bizi Bizi) and Vienna’s best ice cream (Zanoni & Zanoni). At its end is Schwedenplatz with the infamous Bermuda Triangle in the cobbled side streets.
Despite most architects call it a „painted barn“ (maybe because Friedensreich Hundertwasser – who hated straight lines – wasn’t an architect himself), this social housing project has become one of Vienna’s most popular sights. Please mind that this is NOT a museum, but people actually LIVE there, so don’t throw peanuts at them (= behave). If you can’t get enough of it, there is an equally designed museum with a nice but pricey café on Weissgerber Lände (just a short walk away) and a heating plant at U4/U6 Spittelau.
The Imperial Palace of Schönbrunn with its adjacent buildings and vast gardens is among the most important Baroque structures of its type in Europe. In the 17th century, the existing Zoo (Europe’s oldest!) was expanded. The attractiveness of Schönbrunn lies in its original interior from the 18th century as well as in the Baroque garden landscape which remains scarcely altered. www.schoenbrunn.at
Zentralfriedhof and St Marx Cem.
Death may come for free in other countries, but an Austrian who can’t afford a luxurious funeral is said to have wasted his life. There aren’t Pyramids (not yet), but just about everything else. The Central Cemetery was opened in 1874 and is Vienna’s largest burial ground by far. 2,500,000 people have been put six feet under during the last 134 years. There is a special section (Ehrengräber) where composers, writers, artists and politicians are buried, e.g. Brahms, Schubert, Strauss and Beethoven. Not as large, but more beautiful is the St. Marx Cemetery (Mozart is buried there). Take Tram 71 from Schwarzenbergplatz and get off just before the highway bridge, backtrack and head left.
Prater and Danube Island
The Prater fun-fair is a Viennese institution. Its landmark is the 65 metre high Giant Ferris Wheel, towering over the 200 booths, the ghost train, go-karts, grotto railways and the merry-go-rounds. There’s a large park behind it.
21 km long and up to 250 m wide, the Danube Island is a heaven for joggers and skaters, and sunbathers hang out on “Copa Kagrana” Beach. Summer evenings are celebrated with steak, wine and dance till dawn. Annual highlight is the Donauinselfest June 26-28, 2009. Austria’s biggest open air festival, attracting three million visitors and some 2,000 artists each year – with all kinds of music performed on countless stages. Free entrance, but pricey food & drinks. It’s OK to bring your own (no glass bottles for security reasons).
Beyond the island, a new commercial area booms up around the Vienna International Centre and the United Nations building. Plenty dull straight lines for dull architects!